Soapbox - 14

Student organisations are and should be political. Yet we have people like Harriet Geoghegan constantly claiming that the few groups that still admit this, like the International Socialists, are irrelevant to students.
Her ‘working party’ on the governance of OUSA has just brought out its recommendations to gut student representation and turn the Executive into a company board.

As a member of OUSA, I’m outraged that in her position as President she is trying so hard to push her anti-political agenda. OUSA has problems, certainly, and the threat that Voluntary Student Membership poses is a product of its weakness. However, OUSA is not weak because of too much politics; it is weak because it has too little politics.
If you don’t do politics, then politics will happen to you. It happened to the Design students and is about to happen at the College of Education. It is happening now with Roger Douglas’ VSM bill. It would have been impossible for such an anti-union bill to get through while the student associations were out there protesting and being political. Now, at an all-time high of apathy, the associations are coming under attack.
So let’s look at this apathy – why are students so reluctant to get involved these days? It certainly isn’t due to a lack of issues. There is just as much war in the world, just as much hardship placed on students themselves, if not more, than in the heyday of student politics. Yet after the '90s, students seemed to settle back into apathy.
What has changed? Student debt is the first culprit that comes to mind. When each day of uni is costing money, it comes as no surprise that students are reluctant to take any time off to do politics. Student workloads are higher than ever. If you have to hold down a job to support yourself as well, you will have very little time left over. The common lunch hour was a time when students were able to get involved in politics, and they did. It was a perfect time to hold SGMs, because everyone was free. That vanished over the years, and yet we don’t see OUSA doing anything about it. It is this incessant, never-ending pressure to pump out assignments and reports that is the cause of apathy.
Geoghegan claims that having to be political makes it hard for her to collaborate with David Skegg and University management. This comes from a complete misunderstanding of who these people are. Skegg is paid half a million a year to pass the funding shortfall on to us. He is the Government’s hatchet man, cutting education so the Government can give tax cuts to the rich. We need the Vice-Chancellors to jointly oppose underfunding and not compete with one another, but – without staff and student pressure – they will never do that.
Geoghegan's ‘Governance Structure Working Party’ is a sick joke. When students and staff are under attack, with rising fees, enrolment restrictions, and redundancies, and OUSA itself is in the firing line, her plan to slash representation and ‘streamline’ the Executive structure amounts to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
She wants to ditch the positions of Women's Rep, Maori Rep, Pacific Islands Rep, and Queer Rep. We're not defending the existing Executive structure because it is perfect but because, convoluted as it may be, and poor as all OUSA Execcies (especially Presidents) have been in recent years, this structure is the product of student democracy.
Geoghegan's proposals disguise an attack on student representation as businesslike reforms. The working party’s proposals would see all semblance of political representation taken away and replaced with a kind of board, complete with Chairperson, CEO, and COO, turning OUSA’s political representation into a business.
It's madness or malice to argue that boring reports on governance or bland business-type student bureaucrats are going to increase student buy-in to OUSA. They will not.
If you want to increase student buy-in to OUSA, Harriet, start doing your job properly. Demand that the University give Gardies to OUSA to run as a student venue. Do something about damp, cold flats and avaricious landlords. Deliver student concessions on public transport. Oppose fee rises and defend public education. It's not rocket science, just good, old-fashioned, bread-and-butter student politics.
Posted 10:31pm Sunday 11th July 2010 by James Gluck.